Al Basile – Last Hand
Sweetspot Records – 2020
12 tracks; 45 minutes
Al Basile is a poet, lyricist and cornet player who played with the early incarnation of Roomful Of Blues. He has been making records under his own name since the late 90’s but since retiring in 2005 from his day job as a High School teacher he has released a string of excellent albums, usually produced by long-time friend Duke Robillard. Back in 2018 he issued Me & The Originator which combined songs and spoken-word interludes and here he has gone a step further by writing and recording a suite of songs that describes a ‘May to December’ romance that ends tragically. It is Al’s intention to create an audio play based on the song cycle, tentatively entitled Last Hand: The Musical, so watch out for that in due course.
Given the subject matter here, Al decided to strip things back musically, to produce the album himself and work with a trio of Bruce Bears on piano and organ, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira on drums, all members of Duke Robillard’s regular band. Al handles vocals and adds his cornet to just two tunes. The effect is to provide a jazz-inflected backdrop to Al’s lyrics which, as always, are superbly crafted. “It Ain’t Broke” finds the man content with his single status but ready to provide experienced male company when required: “Life can bring you down but have no fear, I can make your troubles all disappear.” However, Al is also aware that, at a certain age, women stop noticing you, you become an “Invisible Man” and you become sceptical, so that when he is approached by a younger woman he instinctively rebuffs her with the words “Don’t Toy With Me”. The trio is on top form through these first three tracks, the jazzy piano and bubbling bass lines fit the songs perfectly while Al’s world-weary vocals also suit the mood. Once he realises how he has hurt the girl he apologises and sets off on this new relationship, still surprised that she is interested in him – “What Would You Be Doing – with a beat-up man like me?”.
Becoming more comfortable with the new relationship, he decides “I Could Get Used To This” and realises that he is in love, the one word title “Don’t”showing that he doesn’t want it to end. Of course, in a relationship where there is a big age difference, one partner will live beyond the death of the other and Al reflects on that in “After I’m Gone”, encouraging her to continue to see her friends, yet then worrying that she may fall for someone of her own age in that circle, pondering “Has He Got A Name?”, before recognising that “The Problem Is Me”. After those doubts and suspicions the couple has a brief period of happiness (“Second Wind”) but tragedy looms as the girl falls seriously ill and the man is desperately concerned in “Closer To The Bone”. When she dies he knows that “Time Heals Nothing”, Al’s cornet adding further despair to the doom-laden piano chords as he reflects that it should have been him to go first: “This ain’t the way it’s supposed to be, time is playing some kind of evil trickery, the first one to go was supposed to be me”. A sombre end to the album.
Al’s vocal range is somewhat limited, less evident on his albums with a bigger band but more obvious here. Nevertheless, the songs are first class and the sparse backing with its jazz-blues mix works well, making Last Hand a worthy addition to Al’s discography.